Sunday, March 21, 2010

"First In Line" at Kmart

From 1975. Of course, three weeks later, these folks were covered with a foot of snow. But when the new Kmart finally opened, doggone it, they were first in line!

You have to admire that kind of tenacity.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I'll Pick Up the Jewel!

Here’s a Chicago-area night scene from the late 1960’s as depicted in a Foster and Kleiser promotional photo. Foster and Kleiser was a major outdoor advertising company. The billboard shown was hand painted, as many were as late as the 1980’s. Before that time, it was a very common thing to see billboards in various states of completion as one drove by.

The product advertised was Tab, a sugar-free cola drink introduced in 1963 by The Coca-Cola Company to cash in on the “dietetic” craze. For decades, Coca-Cola refused to attach their main brand name to anything but their flagship product, for fear that a flop would tarnish the Coca-Cola name, so “Tab”, a name selected by the company’s IBM computer, would be it.

The only time I ever drank Tab was at the home of my grandmother, who was a mild diabetic. She seemed to always have a few six-packs of the (by the 1970’s) pink-colored cans with the funky logo on hand. It had an oddly addictive taste, provided you were able to get used to it in the first place.

Sales of Tab nosedived in the late 70’s when the U.S. Government forced the placement of health risk warning labels on any product containing saccharin, Tab’s artificial sweetener. The warning requirement was finally lifted in 2000, and saccharin-sweetened drinks were declared A-Ok for everyone except extremely thirsty laboratory animals. By this time though, Coca-Cola had long since reversed its product naming policy and introduced Diet Coke, a wildly successful product by any standard. (Thanks to the annonymous commenter who pointed out that even Diet Coke initially contained saccharin. Within the first year or so, they switched to a saccharin/aspartame blend, then to all aspartame in order to be able to use the "100% Nutrasweet" tag.) Tab was relegated to the status of hard-to-find cult favorite. With a very cool logo.

And yes, Diet Coke was an early example of the fine art of “brand extension” - spinoff versions of successful existing products. Without it, we may have never seen the likes of “Frosted Golden Mint Oreo Cakesters (with Double Stuf!)” or similar essentials. I shudder to think of it.

Six paragraphs in, let’s not forget the main reason for inclusion of this photo on this website – the supermarket, of course - and a very fine looking Jewel Food Store it is. This store is circa very late 50’s, after Jewel had switched from masonry pylons to I-beam supported tower signs. The “three-quarter” angle shows the reflective glint of the store’s porcelain-paneled exterior very nicely. The accent strip along the roofline was composed of orange glazed tile.

The stars were exceptionally bright (and pointy) that night.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A&P in The Big Easy!

If any grocery store could lay claim to the term “landmark”, the one pictured above would certainly qualify. It’s the legendary A&P at the corner of Royal and St. Peter streets in the “Vieux CarrĂ©” (known to most of us as the French Quarter) section of New Orleans. Untold numbers of shoppers – locals and tourists alike – have filed past that red marble corner column through the decades.

The store opened on December 20, 1930, and remained open as an A&P for a remarkable 77 years thereafter, until the company sold off its 21-store New Orleans operation in September 2007. Happily, it continues on as a grocery store, part of the locally-owned Rouse’s chain.

It’s almost beside the point to discuss the store’s architecture. From the start, it has blended in seamlessly with the other French Creole-styled buildings (and their intricate balcony ironwork) that predominate the French Quarter. This photograph was taken around 1970, near the midpoint of the store’s existence as an A&P, and shows a much lighter color scheme than many would remember. More familiar are the darker walls and black-painted ironwork the store has sported in recent years. Its undeniably charming appearance has made the store a very popular artist’s motif.

Recently, a commenter on this site likened the Royal St. A&P to a convenience store, and I agree with that description. Because of the store’s urban location and small size, it filled a different role than the typical late-20th century A&P supermarket. Indeed, whenever A&P ran a larger promotion or giveaway in the New Orleans market, they frequently included the disclaimer “all stores except 701 Royal St.”, presumably due to a combination of the lack of space and the higher selling prices attainable in that vibrant tourist district.

Below is a full page Times-Picayune ad from the Royal St. store’s opening day, which merited a fairly cursory mention in the lower left corner of the page. Also of note is A&P’s defense of its area bread pricing, an early skirmish in A&P’s long conflict with the antitrust regulators. Oh, and 8 foot tall Christmas trees for 89 cents!

One last item - since we’re on the subject of A&P in New Orleans, here’s another area store of more modern design, shown shortly after its opening in another A&P publicity shot, from 1968. Featuring a nice contemporary look, this store was highlighted in the 1970 A&P Study by Progressive Grocer magazine.
Note: Thanks to Scott for pointing out an error and supplying some additional information regarding the location of the store pictured below. This store is actually in New Orleans' Garden District, not the French Quarter as previously stated, and still stands at 3233 Magazine Street. The store is now a Breaux Mart, another locally owned chain. Rouse's, who bought most of A&P's area stores, passed on this one owing to its small size.

C'est tout!